Wednesday 26 September 2018

Jock Burnet

Malcolm Valentine Burnet is probably unique among the Dreadnought Boys, coming from a family attended by servants such as housemaid, gamekeeper, chauffeur and gardener. His ancestors included Scottish Lairds and a Lord Mayor of London. Malcolm Burnet was born in the Chateau de Wierre au Bois, in northern France, on 13th February 1906. The family moved back to Scotland when his father inherited the family home, Elrick House near Aberdeen, while Malcolm was still very young.

As a younger son, and now teenager, Malcolm Burnet saw the opportunity for a different life and linked up with the Dreadnought Scheme. Arriving in Sydney on the Jervis Bay on 12th March 1923, 17- year-old Burnet was sent to Grafton Experiment Farm and trained there for six months. Dairy farm placement followed. Like others in his group, he had to repay the £15 loan for the fare, which he did in October 1924. He subsequently decided to make his own way and headed for Bundaberg, or further, in Queensland. So, in 1926, having “jumped” a train and reached Mackay, ‘Jock’ Burnet slept a few nights on the bank of the Pioneer River, before walking 50 km to Finch Hatton to work at the Cattle Creek Sugar Mill.

Jock was to live in the Mackay area for the rest of his life. In 1928 he married Ethel Mildred Jane Puckering, and in 1930 was able to get a contract to sell butter and ice for the new Butter factory.

His first retail venture was the Melody Music Shop in Victoria Street in Mackay from 1933. Five years later he established a circulating library. World War 2 intervened and, in the month before the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, Jock enlisted in the Volunteer Defence Corps. Members of the VDC were used as coast-watchers, for defence of key installations, and also did guerrilla warfare training. Jock was discharged in October 1945.

After the war, in 1946, Jock had a fruit shop in Wood Street Mackay, which he later expanded with a luncheon bar. Ten years on he worked as a commission salesman for a couple of years then, from 1958, Jock ran Burnet’s CafĂ© – until he retired in 1971.

Jock was never homesick and had little time for the ‘landed class’, nevertheless he kept in touch with the family. His mother and a brother and a sister made visits to him in later years. Eventually he did return to Aberdeenshire for a visit.

Malcolm Valentine Burnet passed away in 1992, aged 86 years – a man of enterprise.